Spaced along a tree-lined pathway outside UC Irvine’s Ayala Science Library is a collection of 12 “Sculptures in Marble” donated by the artist, Nancy Doran, in 2005. Each weighs more than half a ton.


hat makes a great community? Infrastructure, education and a vibrant economy are certainly vital, but most important is shared emotional experiences — the thread that ties us together. Orange County cities are each unique in heritage and style, but community is universal. Across the region, a multilayered network of artists and museums, curators and shop owners, writers and students, are championing a creative culture that has formed bonds of inclusivity. “Our culture is no longer defined by industry and production,” said Mark Orgill of Laguna Creative Ventures, “but by creativity and technological innovation.” As this creative ecosystem grows, so does the impact of public art.

Public art is fundamental to strengthening community in real time and is an essential part of providing a legacy for future generations. Concerts, art shows, and movies in the park encourage fellowship, while murals, sculpture gardens and visual arts communicate on a quieter and more personal scale an experience more dependent upon the viewer. There is no expectation or pretension on either side.

“Public art is the reflection of people who live here; it’s an essential piece for expressing who we are as a community.” —Arlene Greer

The Newport Beach Civic Center Park Sculpture Garden Exhibition

Arlene Greer, chair of the Newport Beach Arts Commission, calls public art a museum without walls, noting that anyone can visit at any time of day. “It is free, there are no tickets and visitors can stay as long as they want,” she said.

Of Greer’s 35 years as an advocate and influencer in the arts, 25 have been spent in Newport Beach, with the last eight dedicated to the Arts Commission. She said that the increase in public artworks in Orange County over the past few years has engendered an explosion of ultra-talented creative minds coming out of local high schools and colleges.

“With careful planning, public art can encompass so much more than just an individual mural or sculpture,” she said. “Artworks can live in harmony with progressive architecture as well as with natural elements to make an overall experience and story about residents in that area. Public art is the reflection of people who live here; it’s an essential piece for expressing who we are as a community.”

There is little doubt as to the effects of public art. When locals are asked whether Orange County could use more public art, the answer is a resounding yes. The question remains how to make it happen. Private entities have begun to step up, offering locations and funding to artists and art advocates. Civic projects are also on the rise, though they continue to be carefully scrutinized.

A haven for public and private art, Laguna Beach’s outdoor works are on display at Heisler Park and Main Beach.

Students of Joseph Lewis’ public arts course on the UC Irvine campus spend months on proposals for community projects. “Public art can be a bus shelter, a bench or bike rack,” said Lewis. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a mural or a sculpture. I think that people by and large enjoy the creative intervention into public space. Looking at urban amenities as avenues for art can allow a city to develop new opportunities without having to find additional dollars. There are many ways to enhance a city through art.”

As we move forward as a region, the conversation about art in public places will continue to grow, right alongside a discussion of how best to nurture and grow the sense of community within our neighborhoods. How we communicate our values and culture speaks volumes.

“Public art gives us a sense of pride,” said Jonathan Burke, president of Laguna College of Art and Design. “Going back to the Renaissance, all of the small city states were about art and creating something unique and special. What is Florence without Michaelangelo? Rome without the Colosseum? The Chinese Terra Cotta Warriors or the Mayan pyramids? As modern communities think about their legacy, design and art are absolutely necessary. Creative industry has to be part of the culture. Not everyone goes to a museum, not everyone goes to galleries. Art that is accessible changes people. Art humanizes, sensitizes and surprises. Without art, a city is just about commerce and a life behind closed doors.”

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